All human beings have the tendency to fall down from time to time. A Zen Teacher, guided by the Precepts, Wisdom and Compassion, should be expected to have more skill and experience in avoiding life's temptations and pitfalls ... they should be expected not to fall down easily, not to yield to life's temptations too easily. But Buddhist "Masters" are yet flesh and blood, and only perfect in their human imperfection. (Beware of any "guru" who claims to be so far beyond humanity that they are now beyond all possible falling
In my view, any human being can fall down, and it is just a matter of what the person does then ... picking themselves up, recovering balance, getting back on the trail, apologizing and learning from any damage caused. The real "Master" should much more --rarely--
fall down but, even more impressively, should show true "mastery" in getting back up if she does.
Like any great athlete or dancer, the point is not that we never get knocked around, never trip or stumble ... but how we handle the fall (as in the martial arts ... there is no training offered on how to never fall, but endless training on how to fall well
). Show me the man or woman who falls down sometimes ... but who demonstrates how to fall well and recover one's footing ... and I will show you a great Zen "Master".
On the other hand, beware of any purported "master" who falls down again and again ... or harms his students again and again ... or who tries to recover from falling down mostly concerned about covering his own ass . This, in my mind, is what makes the difference between, for example, a "master" who may have fallen at some time in life into an affair, or a drinking and gambling problem that he or she recovers from ... and those that repeat the behavior again and again over many years. (That, in my mind, appears to be the difference between such cases and Genpo "Roshi" and Eido "Roshi" who seem to have repeated their harmful behavior over decades
If I may add my own "test" for finding a teacher
, I would say find a man or woman who sometimes (though rarely) falls down, makes mistakes, makes a donkey's ass of him or herself
... and observe closely what happens, watch how he or she does it
. Oh, don't get me wrong... probably you do not want as a teacher someone who falls down each and every day, nor someone who falls down too BIG
(robbing banks, lying profusely and intentionally starting fires, for example). No, I mean someone who... every so often, now and then, like everyone... makes a fool of him/herself, loses his Zen Master cool, over-indulges, does a real face-flop, says something she regrets, breaks some (hopefully not too big) Precepts in some very human way.
How does this person recover their balance? With what grace do they fall or, at least, get back up on their feet? Do they profoundly reflect on their mistakes, learn from them, apologize sincerely to anyone hurt (hopefully not too badly) ... and move on? As a matter of fact, since this crazy practice is greatly about living with some grace in this imperfect, often disappointing, trap and temptation filled world, a teacher with a couple of serious imperfections may be a good guide on how to avoid, lessen or escape the worst of it!
Oh, I am not trying to excuse any truly heinous abuses or scandals which have been seen among clergy of all traditions, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist no less (not these "Zen teachers" who keep on with their harmful behavior year in and year out). NOT AT ALL! I have little tolerance for members of the clergy who abuse their positions of trust and hurt others, sometimes children. But also we must be cautious of anyone who wants to be our teacher by telling us that they are beyond all failings, never ever break a Precept (not even the small ones), are "Perfectly Enlightened Beings
" who never trip and fall down. I'll believe it when I see it!
Certainly, it is true that within Enlightenment, there is no place to fall, nothing which can be a mistake. Yet, in this world of Samsara
where we live, I do not think there is anyone who gets away always without cuts and bruises and difficult days. (Anyone who thinks that Zen practice is going to ensure that they never have another "bad day" is in for a bad surprise. Whether we fully "drop good and bad" or not, we must live in a world sometimes real good and real bad.) Sure, this "self" is but an illusion... and so are all the other "selfs" in this world, but we are going to bump and bang into each other sometimes nonetheless. The hole you stumble in may be like a dream, and ultimately there is no place to fall. But fall into that hole and break your imaginary leg, you may!